With his previous film, Playtime, Jacques Tati hoped to bid farewell to his character Monsieur Hulot by proving that the capacity to be funny belonged to everyone. But the financial disaster of Tati’s supreme masterpiece forced him to rethink this strategy. In order to get another film financed, Tati brought back Hulot one more time to star in this satirical 1971 comedy about a journey from Paris to Amsterdam to attend an auto show. Despite the compromise, and the few reflections of the bitterness that accompanies it, Traffic is a masterpiece in its own rightnot only for the sharp picture of the frenetic and gimmick-crazy civilization that worships cars, but also for many remarkable formal qualities: an extraordinary use of sound (always one of Tati’s strong points), a complex interplay of chance and control in the observations of everyday behavior, and, in some spots, a development of the use of multiple focal points to articulate some of the funniest gags. There’s also an elaborate highway accident choreographed like a graceful ballet, and a sweet contrast throughout between the unhurried touristic pleasures enjoyed and propagated by Hulot and a Dutch garage mechanic and the more blinkered and neurotic hyperactivity of some of Hulot’s associates. Perhaps the best route into this wonderful movie is a consideration of the poster designed by Tati to accompany its opening on the Champs-Elysees: the movie’s title backed by an enormous mirror that reflects the delightful spectacle of the passing parade of pedestrians and traffic. In French with subtitles. 96 min. (JR)

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